There is a time in temae, the tea procedure, where the first guest asks the host to haiken the utensils. Haiken means to look closely with appreciation. The etiquette for haiken is to first say “osaki ni” to the next guest before placing the utensil in front of you. First, look at the overall shape of the piece, then you can put your elbows on your knees and carefully pick up the utensil to look even more closely, turn it around and look at all sides of it. Finally, place it back down and give it a goodbye look and then pass it to the next guest.
Many tea rooms in Japan are quite dark, even in the daytime. Before electricity, the room was illuminated by candles at night. From across the room, it was often hard to see the details of the utensils. By asking for haiken, guests have an opportunity to see things close-up. The host is out of the room during haiken, so guests can look at the utensils without the host hovering over them. It is a time for guests to pay close attention to specific utensils.
The first look you take of a utensil, look deeply. What does looking deeply mean? So often when we practice procedures, they become rote and we do it just for the sake of the form. But when you look deeply, you have the opportunity to take time. Looking deeply means you must be present, not thinking of the next thing, about your own upcoming temae or what happened before you got to class. I imagine that this first look is like falling in love at first sight. It imprints itself on you heart, even though you may not know much about it.
Looking beyond the surface
The next part of haiken is putting your elbows on your knees and handling the utensil. This helps bring your eyes closer to the utensil, rather than the utensil to your eyes and it keeps it closer to the floor in case of accidents. Also, it doesn’t have far to fall. This look can heighten your appreciation if you look beyond the surface. This is where you can open it if it has a lid and look inside. Some utensils are just as spectacular (if not more so) inside. Sometimes there is a surprise inside.
Looking with feeling
When you are looking during haiken, notice how it makes you feel. What is it that really catches your eye? What feelings does it evoke? Sometimes we can admire the craftsmanship. Sometimes we get the subtle joke that the artist has cleverly incorporated. It could make you feel expansive, or perhaps more intimate. Again, looking with feeling is paying attention to your own reactions to what you are looking at. You must be present and aware.
Reading what the host is saying through the selection of utensils
There are many aspects of haiken, but another consideration is to try to read what the host is saying with the selection of utensils. How do they relate to the scroll? How do they relate to the other utensils? Do they expand the theme, or do they take it in another direction? Like a movie set, there is not anything thing in the room that was not put there by the host.
The next time you have an opportunity to haiken the utensils, pay attention, look deeper, look with feeling and try to read what the host is saying.